The Japanese particle は(wa), 癒やし (iyashi), and therapeutic dogs.

By | September 5, 2017

Grammar is interesting because it allows packing a lot of meaning into only a few words. In Japanese, a language where words are often omitted, that is even more so.

In this post I want to analyze the following sentence, which I heard the other day:

  • 犬は癒やされますね。 [Inu wa iyasaremasu ne]

This sentence is quite simple, containing only a few words, but when I first heard it it took a second or two for things to click before I got it.

To explain this sentence, first I’ll go over the description of each of the elements:

  • 犬 (inu): “dog” or “dogs” (there is only a plural in Japanese in certain cases)
  • は (wa): A common grammatical particle that has several meanings, but we will be concerned for its role in setting the topic of a sentence or phrase. The character は is usually pronounced “ha”, but when serving as a particle it is prnounced “wa”, so I have written it that way in romaji.
  • 癒やされます (iyasaremasu). This is the polite, passive form of the verb 癒す (iyasu), which rougly means “to heal”, or “to cure”. In my experience, the healing is typically more mental than physical. It can also be used as a noun, as in “癒やし” (iyashi) which can mean “healing”. You can also see it in the form 癒し系 (iyashikei) when referring to a category of healing related things.
  • ね: Another common particle whose explanation is a little tricky. For our purposes, just know that it is often used in conversation with another person, and can have the nuance that you are hoping the other party is following along with you. In this case the other person might have said something similar, so you are echoing their sentiment.

The reason this sentence may be a little tricky is because of both the “wa” being used as a topic marker, because of the passive tense, and also because of an important omitted subject.

If we tried to naively translate this sentence, we might end up with something like this:

  • Dogs, they will be healed indeed.

Of course this is totally incorrect.

To help understand how “wa” factors in, one thing I learned some time ago was to think of it meaning “as for…”. You could also think of it more explicitly as “I’m now going to talk about …”. The key here is the grammar does not imply the thing before the “wa” (dogs in this case) is actually a subject or object of any specific verb. Another way to think about it is that the speaker is talking “about” the topic word or phrase before “wa”. So let’s factor this into our understanding.

  • As for dogs, (?) will be healed indeed.

Now we need to figure out what the omitted subject “?” of the verb 癒やされます is. Often, many times the omitted subject is the speaker, but it can also refer to people in general. In this case, it is the latter.

  • As for dogs, people will be healed indeed.

Notice that typically the thing which an action is being done by in a passive sentence is expressed with the に (ni) particle, for example 「僕はワニに食べられた」 (I was eaten by an alligator). However, in this case since we are talking about the “topic” of dogs, “ni” is not needed.

In any case, if you didn’t understand the sentence when you first saw it, hopefully you do now. Basically, the sentence is saying that dogs can “heal”, or can help improve the quality of your life. A word I think fits pretty closely with the nuance is “therapeutic”. So, now lets use that word and clean up the translation so it approaches something you would actually say in English. (Note: the nuance of the English word “will” doesn’t really fit here, since the sentence is talking about dogs “healing” capacity in general)

  • Yeah, dogs are really therapeutic.

However, the word ‘therapeutic’ is arguably a little stiff and not used that often in real conversation. As long as there was sufficient context (meaning the conversation topic was about what sorts of things are therapeutic), I think in you could just say something like:

  • Yeah, dogs are really great.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Japanese particle は(wa), 癒やし (iyashi), and therapeutic dogs.

  1. Kurt

    In my experience, I’ve never heard 癒す and its inflections used in a physical or medical sense in place of 治る・治す. Before I scrolled down to the rest of the article I was wracking my brain trying to think of a good translation for 癒される but wasn’t successful. I think “therapeutic” is pretty spot on. I keep thinking there’s a better less formal equivalent but it’s not coming to me.

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, this was a tricky one which is why I thought it would be good to make a focused article on.

      Reply

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